When Tina Fey first laid eyes on Steve Carell 17 years ago, he was a big-shot player at Chicago’s famed improv training ground Second City. She was a first-year student there, eager to learn the trade. He starred in sketches on the prestigious main stage with the likes of Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris. She sat in the audience, in awe. ”It was this golden era of Second City,” says Fey. ”And those guys were the mega, giant stars. They were gods of improv.” So when director Shawn Levy hired her to appear opposite Carell in Date Night, naturally, she was honored. ”This whole time, it’s been very difficult for me to look directly at Steve or really even approach him,” she says.
Fey’s joking, of course. But it is true that the Second City alumni and stars of NBC’s Thursday-night comedy lineup — she’s the lead on 30 Rock and he, The Office — barely knew each other before filming Date Night (in theaters April 9). In the movie, which is rated PG-13, Fey and Carell play a married couple whose romantic evening out goes haywire due to a case of mistaken identity. Over the course of one night in New York City, they flee dirty cops, seek help from a pathologically shirtless weapons expert (Mark Wahlberg), and perform a comically inept routine at a strip club. While making the movie, the actors became friends. ”Part of what helped was that we speak the same language in terms of how we trained,” says Carell, over lunch with Fey in New York. ”I felt like I knew her when we started. So it was easy.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What divine forces brought you two together to make Date Night?
STEVE CARELL [Director] Shawn Levy contacted us, and I think we both said the same thing: ”I’ll do it if she wants to do it.” I remember talking to Tina, and we were kind of huddling over whether to jump in or not. And she said something great: ”I just want to go and do a movie and hang off the end of a car.”
TINA FEY It was totally fun. It was like adventure camp. Shawn had done Night at the Museum, so he’s used to giant-scale movies. When it came to even the slightest stunt, [the crew] was 1,000 percent prepared. You’re in this rig, the car is moving, and you turn around and Common [who plays a corrupt cop] is running up the street just shooting at you. Boom! Boom! You’re like, ”I think I’m in a movie!” It was pretty badass.
CARELL And we both liked the premise.
FEY Yeah. We’re both married, have been with our spouses for a long time, and have kids. I liked the idea of playing grown people out on this adventure. I definitely relate to the small details of the script, just how worn-out and in a rut you can get when you’re married and working, with kids.
EW: Since you didn’t know each other well before this movie, was it awkward to shoot the prolonged smooch that plays over the closing credits? You fall to the ground, roll all over the grass in front of your characters’ house…
CARELL That was actually, like, day 2. It was fun. The hardest part was not laughing, frankly. It was Tina’s idea to just try to do the longest kiss in history.
FEY [Leans over the voice recorder] I want to state for my husband’s sake that it was a comedy idea, not an erotic idea. I did pitch: Wouldn’t it be funny if the kiss was as long as the credit sequence? It was fun because we’re both so polite and not only are we both married, but we know each other’s spouses. It was the world’s longest closed-mouth kiss. It was like a tongueless turtle mouth.
CARELL To go for it for, like, five minutes — it was a long time. I was trying not to laugh because I tend to love things that go on and reach their expiration date as a joke and then become funny again, just because you’ve done it for so long.
EW: You did it in one take?
FEY Yeah, I think so. On the [original] audio, there’s a lot of me going, like, ”Roll over! Roll over!”
CARELL ”Roll on top of me!” We didn’t know where we were going to move.
FEY It’s what America wants.
EW: As working parents yourselves, what are your own date nights like?
FEY [My husband and I] don’t have scheduled ones, but it usually involves eating dinner at 11 o’clock at night within an eight-block radius of my apartment. I don’t ever want to go out until I put my daughter to bed. And she seems like she knows it and she’ll drag it out! Then God forbid you need to take a shower before you go out. It’s gonna be 11:30.
CARELL That’s the thing about New York, though. There is a restaurant open at 11 o’clock at night. We don’t have that luxury [in L.A.], unless it’s In-N-Out Burger.
FEY Which is a luxury in itself.
EW: Doesn’t everyone go there after the Oscars?
FEY You and [your wife] Nancy go there, right?
CARELL Yeah. Every time we go to [an awards show], we end up there. It’s the part I look forward to the most.
EW: Do you ever think of giving up the grueling schedule of network television for a cushy movie career?
FEY TV is kind of grueling, but the writer-driven nature of it definitely appeals to me. I think the dream is the BBC, AMC model, where you make 13 episodes a year. Then you can just really get them exactly where you want them — and not have everyone be physically ill by the end of it. ‘Cause everyone is just so worn-out. Obviously, there are worse and harder jobs in the world. It’s not coal mining.
CARELL I don’t see it as a grind. I agree it’s more immediate and you’re less precious about the details. You don’t get a chance to overthink anything. If you think the scene is good enough, then you move on to the next scene. On a movie, you do get a chance to evaluate, which can be good. I like both. It’s nice to be able to do both.
FEY It’s a luxury to be able to do both, yeah. But for me, it seems like [a movie] every other year is the most I can handle.
CARELL But you are also running the show [on 30 Rock]. Your schedule is much more grueling than mine.
FEY It’s an increasing amount of [executive producer] Robert Carlock. But yeah, it’s a lot, and our kids are young, so it’s hard to figure out how much you want to chase movies just to chase them or do you want to have a life?
EW: Steve, you have Dinner for Schmucks coming out this summer with Paul Rudd, who, like you, is known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. What happens when you two get together? Is there such an explosion of kindness that it creates a black hole?
CARELL [Laughs] Yeah, it creates a vortex of niceness that people are sucked into and then turn evil. Paul’s a great guy. People like that really set a tone, I think. I had the pleasure to meet Tom Hanks, and he makes me look like a complete jerk. He’s a really, really aggressively nice guy.
FEY Yeah, he knows everyone’s name.
CARELL He knows and remembers everybody. It’s not fake. It’s not a put-on at all. He is that person. And the same with Paul. They’re good people. Paul and I talked about that general topic, and we agreed that it’s interesting to be known as nice only because you’re not —
FEY Not horrible. The bar is pretty low. But you are very nice.
CARELL I think I’m just a normal guy.
FEY You’re not whipping your cell phone at someone in anger.
EW: Is it because there are so many jerks in Hollywood that the bar is so low?
CARELL I have not experienced that much jerky behavior. Most of the people I’ve met have been pretty kind and nice and generous. So I feel like I’ve been lucky. You hear stories, but…
FEY People who keep working usually are people who are not a pain — but you can write that Steve flipped the table over at the end of the interview.
What would happen if 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon and The Office‘s Michael Scott went on a date?
TINA FEY Oh, Liz Lemon would f— it up. Michael Scott would probably be very open, but Liz Lemon would be sour and judgmental and she’d blow it. [Laughs]
STEVE CARELL Blow it? With Michael? I don’t think there’s any way she would agree to go out with Michael Scott unless she had been tricked into it. I don’t think you go from Jon Hamm to Michael Scott. Michael Scott should be so lucky.
FEY We should just say, ”That’s the series finale this year!”
CARELL ”We’re planning a little cross-pollination. There’s a tornado, and we all have to huddle somewhere between New York City and Scranton! It makes complete sense!” [Shakes his head] No way.
FEY It would be so bad. It’s not gonna happen.